The Giro’s TTT: survival of the weakest

Just how important is the team time trial to the ambitions of the overall contenders? Less so than you might think.

Words by Kenny Pryde

Thursday May 10, 2012

The team time trial – it’s a discipline in search of some love and a home, cycling’s foster care case. The discipline has been long since dumped from the Olympics and World championships and rotates in and out of Tour and Giro routes on a whim of the organiser. The TTT is no longer any part of any other major races, but stuck into the programme of a Grand Tour to test the survival of the weakest.

If nothing else, this heartless and unloved affair poses team managers a selection conundrum. If you really fancy yourselves as contenders for overall honours, your aim is to not lose a lot of time on the other contenders. But to do that you need to bring along some big boys capable of horsing it along the flat. At the same time, you’ll need to protect your interests in the mountains and those TTT turbo diesels aren’t going to be much use then. There are also plenty of other tactics you need to understand.

So, as a manager, you pick a team that you hope won’t fall apart after 10 kilometres, but probably won’t win either. The main thing is that your GC man won’t lose the sort of time that requires a sundial rather than a stopwatch to calculate. The truth these days is that you don’t really need to worry too much about ruining your chances of winning the race overall if you lose time in the TTT since their distances in the Giro have been reduced to around 40 kilometres.

In recent history (the last 20 years), the team that triumphed in a TTT rarely provided the winner overall. The exceptions are just that – exceptional. US Postal and Lance Armstrong won the longer Tour de France TTTs in the early 2000s – but never by massive amounts. Happily, some might say, 2012 Giro TTT winners Garmin are not US Postal and Ryder Hesjedal is not Lance Armstrong.

More saliently, only twice in the same period has the winning TTT team contained the overall winner of the Giro – and those are special cases too. Ivan Basso’s CSC Team was way too strong for everyone else in 2006. The following year, 2007, that other paragon of the era, Danilo Di Luca, won the Giro after his Liquigas team won the TTT. It’s probably safe to say that Garmin and Hesjedal won’t mind being not being classed in the same company as either of these two gents and their physiology-defying blood chemistry.

The days when Grand Tour contender could (and often would) lose four minutes or more over the duration of a 42km team time trial are, thankfully, over. Pedro Delgado’s Spanish Reynolds team did so in the 1989 Tour de France TTT, finishing dead last out of twenty-two teams, 4-32 behind winners Super U. Even Cafe de Colombia beat them. Poor ‘Perico’ finished third overall by the time the race finished in Paris, 3-34 down on winner Greg LeMond. He can probably laugh about it now. Or maybe not.

On stage four of this Giro, the team propping up the time sheets – Euskaltel Euskadi, the Cafe De Colombia des nos jours if you like – only lost 2-22 to the stage winners Garmin, although there was a little bit of a drag on the Verona TTT course, which, presumably, helped the Basque climbers.

But enough of the history, who were the ‘winners’ in the Giro TTT? Apart from Garmin and Hesjedal, you have to see the performances of the Astana and Katusha teams as signs of things to come in the mountains. Given that those teams aren’t crammed with flat-land rouleurs, it suggests they’ve got the preparation right and that we’ll be seeing a lot more of Flèche Wallonne winner Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Roman Kreuziger (Astana) in the 2012 Giro’s mountains.

And the losers? None of the overall contenders really fell off a cliff in terms of time loss and none of them looked to be struggling to keep up – even the appalling early season form of Liquigas leader Ivan Basso (33rd at 0-47) seems to be turning around. Relatively speaking, Lampre didn’t look great – 12th at 34 seconds, which won’t help either Damiano Cunego (83rd at 1-19) or Michele Scarponi (85th at 1-22) scrape their way onto the bottom step of the podium. And what of late Giro call-up Frank Schleck? Instead of relaxing this week and planning his training to peak for July, he’s 1-09 down in 68th place. It can only get better for the RadioShack rider. Unless it gets worse.

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Edward Pickering is a writer and journalist, editor of Pro Cycling and previous deputy editor of Cycle Sport. As well as contributing to Cycling Weekly, he has also written for the likes of the New York Times. His book, The Race Against Time, saw him shortlisted for Best New Writer at the British Sports Book Awards. A self-confessed 'fair weather cyclist', Pickering also enjoys running.